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Monday, August 31, 2015

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2015 at 4:54 PM

Skull fest started off the way any utopian punk show should start—an 11 year old girl played drums in Eyeroll, a new kick-ass all-lady punk band that produced an accompanying zine with its song lyrics, while even younger kids took control of the pit, dancing and snarling like adorable baby Sid Viciouses (or maybe Poly Styrenes), and in between songs and sets could be heard accents from various regions of the U.S. and the globe. This is The Shop, one of Pittsburgh's only public all ages show spaces, and the perfect way to start off a punk fest that is intrinsically inclusive, a space that maintains all the vitality of punk. 

click to enlarge Caustic Christ at The Shop - ALL PHOTOS BY  CAROLYNE WHELAN
All photos by Carolyne Whelan
Caustic Christ at The Shop

According to PUNK Magazine founder John Holmstrom, in an interview I did with him back in 1999, punk is kids' music: short, fast, loud songs played for and by short, fast, loud people. But youth is a state of mind and for so many of us, Skull Fest brought us back to our snotty roots and made us feel like kids again, though thankfully with less homework, pimples, and getting beat up outside homeroom. In November, 1997, when I was an awkward 10th grader, Aus Rotten played the last all ages show at my local punk club, The Rat, and it was possibly one of the most important events of my life, shaping who I wanted to be and what I wanted my future to look like. Those by-gone shows were in the bar's basement, just like Cattivo's all-ages space. Caustic Christ and Government Issue both played strong, impressive sets on Friday night and Behind Enemy Lines raged strong with The Pist on Saturday night, both in that basement. All shows had band and crowd members who were a little worse for the wear (Behind Enemy Lines and Caustic Christ both feature former members of Aus Rotten), but as soon as the music hit, 45-year-olds danced with 15-year-olds in the pit, legs levitated on backs and shoulders as people pig piled and crowd surfed, my glasses got thrown from my face, and everyone knew all the words. I have a lot of respect for a music festival who has the foresight to invite younger punks to play and attend a fest, because without them there is no punk. Even more than the club space, though, was outside the Shop on Saturday afternoon, hanging out between bands and watching Caustic Christ play in the alleyway, that encapsulated the vitality and endless youth that is perpetuated by a good riff and lyrics about The Man.
click to enlarge Siki Spacek of Black Death Resurrected at Gooski's
Siki Spacek of Black Death Resurrected at Gooski's

Skull Fest isn't without its hijinks, though this year there was less broken glass, less blood shed, and from this festival-goer's perspective, less drama. This could be because of the cost of shows, the choice of venue (Cattivo hosted the majority of the larger shows, and its security and structural layout make it difficult for people to loiter outside to listen), or because the dynamic of the bands playing was diverse enough to fend off more ne'er-do-wells. It was an interesting juxtaposition from Bloomfield's Little Italy Days, just up the block from The Shop and near the majority of Skull Fest. While the nihilists, wanders, and self-described mutants took care to keep the mess inside, not bother the neighbors (for the most part), and uphold the tenants of underground music (namely, "respect the space" and "don't blow up the spot"), the Bloomfield Little Italy Days attendees left a path of destruction in the form of trash, vomit, urine, and food waste. The “Skulluminati,” the Captain Planet style ensemble of punks from different subgenres of the scene, worked hard to successfully organize a fest that had something for everyone, except maybe yuppies. All powers combined, and together threw one hell of a party.

Skull Fest was originated from a birthday party and is still a celebration, but it's grown into so much more in its seven years. There's more camaraderie, more support, more diversity. While punk was started by weirdos and wing nuts and people on the outskirts of social power, including women and people of color, it's often the (straight white) guys whose bands have risen to the top. But at Skull Fest VII: Skull-idays in the Sun, bands like Pox, Isotope, and Tozca (all from California), Black Death Resurrected (Ohio), Malokio (Montreal), and many more in between were invited to take their space on stage, and they slayed.

click to enlarge Caustic Christ fans at The Shop
Caustic Christ fans at The Shop
I was genuinely proud to be a Pittsburgher during this year's skull fest, to be a resident of the city who hosted this awesome party. I was equally proud that all the local bands represented so fiercely. No band was blown out of the water since every band, local or touring, was excellent, but when locals like Derketa, Zeitgeist, or Lady Beast finished their sets, it was clear why punks move to Pittsburgh, why we stay, and why we can throw one hell of a party. Pittsburgh punk rules okay!

Real punk is something that is often debated, typically between adolescents trying to assert their place in a scene that feels so vast until it feels too small. For me, it's that moment when everyone loses their own barriers and starts dancing and enjoying themselves, not concerned about what is socially acceptable or cool. This isn't a scene for people who want to be cool; despite this blog post, what we do really is secret for the most part, so there's no point in pretense. Dusty Hanna isn't the only person behind Skull Fest, but he appears as the face of it, partly to keep some of that secrecy in check. As his own band, Silence, played their set of danceable dark wave punk at the late night Cattivo 21+ show featuring Nervosas and Spectres who both made me want to live forever, he cracked a smile. Perhaps he noticed, as I did, that the crowd had shifted, people who were holding drinks were now holding hands and swaying, spinning in circles, and as he sang about the sound of nothing being deafening, people held nothing, twirling and dancing like free organisms. Skull Fest was a success. 
click to enlarge Torso at The Shop
Torso at The Shop

While I do enjoy the hijinks, at its heart I don't think Skull Fest is the oogle screaming on the street because she is upset at her boyfriend, but is perhaps the guy with face tattoos trying to calm down this stranger he just met. It isn't the woman who tipped over and passed out for a moment outside the Brillobox, whom I think may have had a stroke as her arm tucked towards her chest and she started shaking before her eyes opened, but is the two people who rushed to her aid to bring her back to attention and call for medical help. And sure, it is partly Jimmy Rose of Ratface becoming unleashed during their reunion set at Brillobox and smashing his guitar on the PA and telling everyone he hates us, but it's also everyone laughing and loving him anyway. The magic of Skull Fest is in this very real and important moment when we are validated, and friendships are made and rekindled, and we are free to be our feral, lovely, loving, vulnerable selves.

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Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2015 at 11:57 AM

This week’s MP3 Monday comes courtesy of local melodic death metal outfit Greywalker. Stream or download “Beyond All Mortal” from the new record of the same name below. And while you listen, take a look at our review of the record, here.


This download link has expired, sorry!

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Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2015 at 11:30 AM

At a press conference on Aug. 28  in Schenley Plaza, workers at Conflict Kitchen voted to unionize, forming a 15-member union of restaurant staff members. Workers at the counter-service restaurant, owned by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), join CulinArt workers, who are contracted out by CMU to provide food service in cafeterias, and university employed operating engineers (construction workers) as labor unions at CMU.

click to enlarge Conflict Kitchen worker Quinton Steele embraces a technical worker from Allegheny General Hospital, who was there in support of the restaurant's new union. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
Photo by Ryan Deto
Conflict Kitchen worker Quinton Steele embraces a technical worker from Allegheny General Hospital, who was there in support of the restaurant's new union.

Conflict Kitchen is an art project/restaurant that serves cuisine from a country that is currently going through some kind of conflict with the U.S. The stand has genered controversy over the years, with the kitchen closing in November 2014 due to death threats in response to the restaurant serving Palestinian food. Their current menu features Cuban cuisine.

Workers at Conflict Kitchen joined forces with Local 23 United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). Conflict Kitchen employee Quinton Steele announced at the press conference that CMU has recognized their right to form a union and has agreed to meet them at the negotiating table. A majority vote from workers was not needed since CMU recognized majority support was already present (14 out of 15 workers signed authorization cards).

“We are thrilled to be organizing,” says Steele. “We think it is important to use our visibility to help the fight for other service workers.”

Max Lyons has been working full-time at Conflict Kitchen since April and was part of the effort to unionize. He says he makes approximately $10 an hour, plus a small amount of tips, and started to think about unionizing after the victory of New York City fast-food workers to earn $15 an hour.

According to the National Restaurant Association, there are 14 million restaurant industry employees in the U.S. Lyons says these workers are making far less than other comparable service workers. “That constitutes a conflict that is widespread in our own country, and we want to address it," he says.

Steele says that workers at the restaurant started the process to form a union two weeks ago and was elated to see the completion happen “shockingly fast.”

Local 23 UFCW president Tony Helfer says the speed in which the union forms is “the way the National Labor Relations Board Act is supposed to work.” The NLRB Act was passed in 1935 to “protect the rights of employees and employers,” according the NLRB website.

He commends CMU for their cooperation. “When people feel they want to organize a union, they should freely be able to,” says Helfer.

CMU Executive Director of Media Relations Ken Walters issued this statement to City Paper in response: “The university confirms that it has voluntarily recognized the right of the Conflict Kitchen food service workers to unionize, and has no further comment as personnel and collective bargaining matters are treated confidentially."

With the formation of the union at Conflict Kitchen, another pillar falls in the ongoing effort to stop service workers from unionizing at large, local nonprofits. In June, service and technical workers at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) formed a union of 1,200 employees. AGH is the Pittsburgh’s third largest nonprofit, and CMU is the city’s fourth largest.

The largest nonprofit, UPMC, (and by a giant margin of more than 30,000 workers) has been in the midst of a three-year fight against its own service workers efforts to form a union.

Steele feels like the environment around unions is changing and the tide is turning in the direction of service workers.

“Workers at UPMC are taking it in the right direction,” says Steele. “It feels like there is a better place for unions in Pittsburgh now.”

Ashley Murray contributed to this report.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 at 12:51 PM

After a summer recess, Pittsburgh City Council returned today for it's regular meeting where councilors were met with sobering testimony from one city resident. Ramele Davis, from the Hill District, called on council to stand with her to help stem gun violence in light of the recent shootings that have shaken her and her neighbors.

"I'm getting scared to sleep in my house at night," Davis said. "This has got to stop. I can't live like this anymore."

Davis' testimony launched a conversation about recent shootings locally and nationally. So far this summer, there have been a dozen gun-related homicides in the city.

But it also renewed discussion of an abandoned city ordinance — Pittsburgh's lost and stolen gun legislation. Passed in 2008, the law allows law enforcement to fine gun owners who do not report their firearms lost or stolen. 

"We had sometime ago passed the lost and stolen gun legislation," District 1 Councilor Darlene Harris said at the meeting. "I was wondering do you know if that was implemented or not yet. I've had some questions on that." 

City Paper raised similar questions in May 2014, a few months into Mayor Peduto's first year in office. Throughout his campaign, Peduto said he would implement the ordinance as soon as he took office, but to date not a single person has been cited. Peduto told us at the time that he had no intention of enforcing the law out of fear of being sued.

Council President Bruce Kraus, said one of the reasons for this is a National Rifle Association-backed statewide bill, that gives gun owners the right to sue municipalities that have passed lost and stolen legislation even if it hadn't been enforced. According to Kraus, the Erie city council also passed similar lost and stolen gun legislation and has since repealed it in fear of being sued under the state law.

"The state wants to limit what we can do locally to protect our citizens," said Kraus who is attending a conference on gun violence in Erie this weekend. "I'm not willing to surrender that. I would argue that one of the many avenues we need to pursue is to hold our state legislature accountable for the decisions they make in Harrisburg."

But that law, Act 192, was struck down in June by the Commonwealth Court who ruled it unconstitutional. Kraus offered to initiate communication with the mayor's office about the status of enforcing the city ordinance. The city was one of 20 municipalities that sued to overturn Act 192, despite never enforcing its law to begin with.

"A 17-year-old kid is afraid to go outside for because the streets are flooded with guns," said Kraus "If we can find a way to keep the gun out of a young person's hand then the shooting can't take place." 

An individual cited under the city's lost and stolen ordinance would still be able to sue the city. But despite the certainty of many that the city would be sued, District 8 Councilor Ricky Burgess said Pittsburgh should implement it anyway.

"The day we enforce it is the day we get sued," said Burgess. "I'm at the point where lets make them sue us. People shouldn't be walking down the street with handguns. People shouldn't be walking down the street with AR14s and AK47s. These kids who are doing these crimes are better armed than police officers."

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Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 at 11:13 AM

We slog through the twitter streams of the 2016 Presidential candidates, and give you a weekly round-up of the more entertaining ones, every Friday.

A relatively quiet week until Trump started insulting everybody.

Some stragglers from the Iowa State Fall, where it's all about the pork products. You decide: Who flipped it best?

Trump spent the week smiting various foes, but here's two opinions I concur with. Running as "Jeb!" is a weird PR choice, and yes, a wall is not a fence.

Awkwardly worded, it only reminds us that Christie also has legal questions about his own scandals to answer ...

I'm embarrassed for everybody.

We're probably only one campaign away from a target-shooting contest between gun-happy candidates.

A tweet to horrify copy-editors. Random comma, attached ellipses?! A lot of hesitation in this "bold" statement.

Lincoln Chafee continues to file opinions on topics completely unrelated to the campaign. This week: the garbage crisis in Lebanon.

And to wind up a tough week, here's a cute photo of Rick Perry's dogs. Wiener dog, y'all!

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Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

It seems like everyday another scholar, journalist or parent comes up with a new way to "fix public education." See examples here, here and here.

 But what if a local school district could be helped by something as simple as pencils?

That's the idea behind #2MillPencils, a fundraising drive to collect two million pencils for students in the Wilkinsburg School District. The effort, spearheaded by local nonprofit Internationally Smart Is Cool, would provide enough pencils for 2,000 Wilkinsburg students to have 200 each for the next five years. 

"I hope that it shows that something very small can make a difference," says Jamillia Kamara, the organization's founder. "One pencil can write 45,000 words. You don’t need millions of dollars to help communities, you can give 10 cents."

According to anecdotal evidence and the results of a small survey, Kamara, a former teacher who taught first and fifth grades, says pencils are one of the main school supplies teachers say they lack.

"Students don’t have pencils ever," says Kamara. "It was identified that pencils were the number-one item that students didn’t have by teachers." 

The Wilkinsburg School School district has long struggled with poor student achievement. In 2014, the state Department of Education ranked all four Wilkinsburg schools among the lowest-performing in the state.

"We were looking for schools to partner with, and Wilkinsburg schools were really receptive," says Kamara. "There’s a great sense of community there and collaboration that I found attractive."

The pencil drive will run from Sept. 7 to Dec. 3, but right now Kamara is calling on businesses and organizations to serve as drop-off sites. Each drop-off site will also need two storage bins. Those interested in helping can donate a bin or funds to buy one. Donors can also contribute to a Go Fund Me campaign. Later, Kamara will need volunteers to help count and box the pencils and transport them.

"Right now, to get us up and running, the biggest source of help we need is funding and sponsorships," Kamara says. "The barrier to entry is low. It’s something that everyone can grab on to."

Beyond this effort, Internationally Smart is Cool is focused on serving middle-school students, a group Kamara says receives the least attention. 

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 at 1:06 PM

Earlier this year, the United States Justice Department announced that Pittsburgh would be among six cities taking part in a pilot program aimed at reducing racial bias and improving police-community relations. Many have applauded the new program and efforts by Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay to rebuild community trust in the police force.

But Pittsburgh is in many ways still dealing with the remnants of past unresolved police brutality incidents. 
click to enlarge Jordan Miles - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
Photo By Heather Mull
Jordan Miles
The city was reminded of these Tuesday when attorneys for Jordan Miles filed an appeal on his behalf. 

In March 2014, a jury ruled that three Pittsburgh police officers were not guilty of using excessive force in the January 2010 arrest of Miles that left him with bruises and broken bones. However, in a split verdict, the jury ruled that the officers were guilty of falsely arresting Miles.

"If we can't get justice for Jordan Miles then all these conversations about police brutality are just that," says Brandi Fisher, president of the Alliance for Police Accountability, who has worked with Miles and his family over the past five years. "If we can't get justice then Pittsburgh being a pilot city for community police relations is a farce."

Plans for the appeal filed yesterday began almost immediately after the verdict was reached. The appeal challenges the split verdict on the basis that if the officers falsely arrested Miles, any force involved in that arrest must be deemed excessive. 

"He was served a great injustice, and that never goes away. He never received justice. This should've never happened to him, and the people responsible need to be held responsible," says Fisher. "You can drive down the street and accidentally hit someone and kill them, and even though it's an accident, you're still held responsible."

The appeal is also based on the decision of the judge in the first trial to exclude evidence. After the verdict, Miles' attorney alleged that there was evidence to suggest that at least one of the officers in the incident held a serious racial animus.

"The officers are still working. Not one of them was reprimanded," says Fisher. "It's a classic case of police brutality. We are going to continue to advocate for Jordan Miles and his cause."

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Posted By on Wed, Aug 26, 2015 at 2:16 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists covered in the current music section. Take a look (at the paper) and a listen (to the playlist)!


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 5:06 PM

Well, it's Tuesday, again, and because we are so very reliable here at City Paper, that means it's time for some freshly announced shows!

Big K.R.I.T. comes to Altar Bar on October 29 ($23 -25, on sale now). Meg Myers and Jarryd James stop by that venue on October 16 ($15-18, on sale Friday).

Coming to Cattivo: local faves Zombi along with Pinkish Black on November 14 ($15, on sale Friday), and Tigers Jaw on October 2 ($15, on sale now).

S (aka Jenn Ghetto) plays Spirit on October 12 ($8-10, on sale now).

Born Cages will be at the Smiling Moose on October 1 ($10, on sale Friday). 

X Ambassadors plays Mr. Small's Theatre on October 20 ($15-17, on sale Friday). Also at Mr. Small's: Yonder Mountain String Band with Henhouse Prowlers on November 8 ($25-30, on sale Friday); Jonny Two Bags of Social Distortion on November 15 ($17-20, on sale Friday); Silverstein on November 19 ($22-25, on sale now); The Sword on December 8 ($18-20, on sale now); Texas In July on December 10 ($12-15, on sale now).

At Club Cafe: The Claudettes on October 6 ($10, on sale now) and  Maia Sharp on October 22 ($15, on sale now).


Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 12:21 PM

Contention between members of the Allegheny County Council keeps getting hotter and hotter, even as the dog days of summer begin to wind down.

Council Vice President Nicholas Futules is sponsoring an ordinance to amend part of the county code that will change the voting procedures on legislation. The proposed changes seek to add five new provisions to the county's 90-day voting rule and will allow ordinances to be tabled through various methods, such as allowing primary sponsors of ordinances to request written extensions and allowing the council president to table an ordinance by declaring in writing that there is “insufficient information."

Futules argues that these changes will increase transparency and are “good government.”

“There is a lot of legislation that did not get addressed after 90 days, and then some council members were unaware of what they are voting on,” says Futules. He says the ordinance should clarify the ways to extend the 90-day rule, so uninformed council members have the ability to get informed before voting on the ordinance.

But Heather Heidelbaugh, a Republican filling an at-large council seat, believes these changes will make things worse. She explains to City Paper that currently, ordinances are proposed during council meetings and then sent off to the appropriate committees by the council president. However, the proposed ordinances are not automatically placed on the committee’s next meeting to be discussed, and instead go into a “council cloud” that can be drawn from at a later date. (Heidelbaugh says that some ordinances were proposed months ago and have never been discussed in committee.)

Heidelbaugh argues that this leads to ordinances forever floating in the clouds and never actually being discussed, which is why so many ordinances did not get voted on in 90 days. 

Now, according to Heidelbaugh, ordinances could have increased obstacles to reach the floor for a vote because the council president and committee chairs can indefinitely delay the 90 day rule thanks to the proposed changes. She says that these new rules will make it easier to keep "difficult bills" from getting voted up or down.

"This new legislation will give the council president the sole power to prohibit any bill from ever getting discussed," says Heidelbaugh.

(The current, and only, rule to table an ordinance is that two-thirds of the seated council must vote to do so.)

Sue Means, a Republican representing Mount Lebanon and Bethel Park, says the timing of this proposed change is suspicious considering that some council members voiced criticism of how the council operates last week. She, along with Heidelbaugh, is holding a press conference today at 2 p.m. to publicly decry Futules' ordinance.

Means is further perplexed by the new bill because she recognizes there are enough Democrats in the council to vote down bills they don't agree with. "I don't get it, they have the votes to kill everything," says Means. "Why not just let the bills reach the floor?"

The final stipulation of Futules' ordinance would require bills to be automatically placed on floor at the end of 90 days. However, this will only happen if the ordinance is not subject to any of the new exceptions, like the "insufficient information" clause.

Heidelbaugh says she has proposed this same stipulation to force a vote after 90 days many times over her term, and those requests were ignored.

Allegheny County Council meets today at 5 p.m. at the County Courthouse, 436 Grant Street, 4th Floor in the Gold Room. Meetings are open to the public.

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